Gulfstream kicks off its championship winter season Saturday with the Claiming Crown, an event that fulfills bettors fondness for full fields with plenty of price opportunities. The nine races have drawn 121 entries with the smallest field being 10. A couple of new rainbow-chasing bets, a rolling Hi 5 and a second Pick 5 on the opening five races of each card, have been added to the betting menu.

MIAMI, Dec. 3, 2015—“There’s no beginning, there’ll be no end…” is not only a verse from the old pop ballad Love Is All Around, it’s a description of America’s national racing scene.

Year-round racing has eradicated any sense of a roundly recognized opening and closing day of the season. The Eclipse Awards might be the only entity that recognizes a Jan. 1-Dec. 31 season. Every locale has its own parameters.

Few are bigger than opening day of Gulfstream’s championship season Saturday. Thanks to the positioning of the Claiming Crown as the inaugural event, it might be one of the best betting days of the year. The series dedicated to the blue collar heroes of racing has grown to nine races worth more than a million dollars cumulatively in purses.

Bettors love full fields and few days deliver better than the Claiming Crown. The shortest field is 10 for the Iron Horse. Fourteen or more passed through the entry box for five of the nine stakes, each worth in excess of $100,000.

The name is somewhat deceptive. To qualify, a horse must have run for a designated claiming price during the previous two seasons. But the fields are littered with shrewd claims, who advanced upward to the stakes ranks.

“The Rapid Transit is good enough to be a Grade 3,” said P.J. Campo, director of racing for The Stronach Group and Gulfstream general manager. Indeed, defending champion Grande Shores is likely to be no better than third choice behind multiple New York stakes-winner Stallwalkin’ Dude, who was third in the Grade 1 Vosburgh, and Trouble Kid, who knocked out a loaded field in the Gallant Bob on the Pennsylvania Derby undercard then finished first in the DeFrancis Dash, only to be disqualified.

Campo, a former racing secretary at NYRA, is loving life since coming to Gulfstream. “I’ve learned more in the last two years here than I did in my 15 years in New York.” Where he formerly concerned himself with filling races, he now has to oversee the racing program, a casino and The Village, the mall built around the racetrack. A water park is soon to come.

A couple of Claiming Crown defending champions also are back: Loverbil, winner of the 2014 Express, and St. Borealis, who got the money a year ago in the Tiara.

Gulfstream has resuscitated the Claiming Crown, an admirable concept, which was in its death throes as it drifted around the country. The key was scheduling it as the focal point of opening day. In spite of almost year-round racing, the start of Gulfstream's winter meeting endures as an anticipated event.

This is the final year of the Claiming Crown’s four-year contract with Gulfstream but Campo is confident a new deal will be worked out. “The timing (in late December when tracks up north are shutting down for the winter) is good and everyone loves to come to Florida.”

Another key factor is Gulfstream has streamlined the nominating process so that owners and trainers don’t have to put up fees until a few weeks before the event. At one point, nominations had to be made during the summer. The connections of claimers don’t even know if a horse will still be in their barn that far down the road.

The Claiming Crown epitomizes Gulfstream’s refusal to rest on its laurels. There was no shortage of potential life-changing jackpot pools when Tim Ritvo came up with the Rainbow Six, a unique concept in which the full pool was distributed only when there was a single winner. Some jackpots have exceeded a million dollars and drawn the attention of bettors nationwide. Detractors, including some of the most prominent names in the gambling world, scoffed but the Rainbow Six not only is an indisputable success, it has been widely emulated.

A couple of new wagers with the potential for breath-taking payoffs have been added to the menu: a rolling Hi 5, starting with the first race, and a second Pick 5 on races 1-5. Both had test rollouts at the Gulfstream West meeting. A third experiment at GPW, a $5 quiniela on the final race of each day’s card, will not be continued.

Gulfstream has reached out to its sister tracks in Maryland and NYRA to bring in a couple of the industry’s most respected closed-circuit analysts, Gabby Gaudet and Andy Serling. While closely identified with New York racing, Serling knows the Gulfstream terrain. Before his NYRA duties kept him in the frozen north, he used to be a Gulfstream winter regular as a bettor. Those who got to know him offered a player’s ultimate accolade: “He’s got a really good opinion.”

A not insignificant side benefit of NYRA granting Serling a leave of absence during January and February is an agreement between the tracks to make every effort to stagger post times so that the most popular winter signals in the East don’t wind up having races break from the gate in frustratingly close proximity. Players, including this one, have been pleading for this accommodation for years.

Campo said he’ll also make an effort to bring Stronach owned Santa Anita into this pattern. Given California’s notorious, “We are the center of the universe” attitude, this might be easier said than done.

The Claiming Crown is only the start for Gulfstream. Multiple stakes, many of them graded, are scheduled for most Saturdays.

There also is the traditional rollout of Classic hopefuls. Orb came to Gulfstream a one-for-four maiden winner in 2013. He won all three Gulfstream starts, including the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby, en route to capturing the Kentucky Derby. Big Brown had won only one race, on the grass at Saratoga, before he took the Florida Derby path to the Churchill Downs winner’s circle in 2008.

For the first time in memory, Todd Pletcher, 12-time Gulfstream training champion, is coming south for the winter without one of the big-time prospects for the spring classics. “Don’t worry,” Campo said. “He’ll come up with some.”

History backs this. Materiality and Constitution each came to Florida as an unraced maiden and left Gulfstream as Florida Derby winners. Coincidentally, both won their debuts on Jan. 11.

Until last weekend, it appeared the strength of the Derby generation was going to be based on the West Coast. Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Nyquist, Swipe, the colt who has chased him home four straight times, and Exaggerator, winner of the Delta Jackpot, are all stabled at Santa Anita.

However, the undefeated Mohaymen ran his record to three-for-three with an eye-catching score in the Remsen on Saturday. The same day, Airoforce, whose only blemish in his first three starts, all on grass, was a second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, came from off the pace to win his main track debut in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes.

Both will be at Gulfstream this winter with the April 2 Florida Derby circled on their calendar.